TOKYO, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Urawa Red Diamonds’ Fabricio and Takahiro Sekine earned a 2-0 Asian Champions League semi-final first-leg win over Chinese Super League leaders Guangzhou Evergrande as the twice champions moved towards setting up a repeat of the 2017 final.
The Japanese won the second of their titles against Al Hilal two years ago and, with the Saudi Arabia side holding a 4-1 first-leg lead after demolishing Qatar’s Al Sadd on Tuesday, the odds on a rematch next month have been slashed.
Brazilian Fabricio gave Urawa the lead 19 minutes into the game with a fine strike from distance before an equally spectacular effort from Sekine 15 minutes from time put the J-League side in command of the tie.
The second leg is at Guangzhou’s Tianhe Stadium on Oct. 23, with Fabio Cannavaro’s Chinese team needing to arrest an alarming slump in form to overturn the deficit.
“I know our opponent is very strong and because I was expecting such an opponent, I decided on the 11 we fielded in the starting lineup,” said the Italian World Cup-winner, whose side are without a win in their last six games.
“But I didn’t expect to concede two goals. I didn’t expect that, but this is football and we have to get ready and prepare for the next match.
“I still think we have a chance to get to the final.”
Urawa overcame dismal domestic form, which has seen them slump to 13th in the J-League, to control the game and Fabricio’s opener came as little surprise when it flew into the top corner.
Daiki Hashioka should have added a second seven minutes later, only to see his attempt cleared off the line by Gao Zhunyi.
But the hosts eventually got the second goal their performance deserved when Sekine punished Guangzhou’s failure to fully clear Kazuki Nagasawa’s corner, allowing the 24-year-old full back to score from outside the area.
“Even though we won tonight it doesn’t guarantee that we are through to the next round,” said Urawa head coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki.
“We still have time to prepare for the second leg and hopefully we can improve the team further so that we can go through to the final.” (Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Ken Ferris)